Elephants and women have long memories

Elephants and women don’t forget.

In mid-June, Reuters reported that Happy the elephant would remain confined at the Bronx Zoo. The “New York State’s highest court on Tuesday ruled against an animal rights group that said she deserved some of the same rights as humans and should be freed.” Nine days later, Mississippi’s abortion ban was upheld 6-3, and Roe v. Wade’s 5-4 decision saw a fifty year legal precedent crumble into a 1970s style Jell-O mold, allowing states to decide if abortion should be legal or not.

In the first case, the elephant was not represented by its peers on the panel of appeals. There were no animals on the panel. In the second case, there were only three women on the Supreme Court, one of whom is better known for being in a man’s pocket than standing on her own two feet. The other two women on the Supreme Court voted to not strip women of this important and long fought for right.

That intelligent animals and women can have their rights not acknowledged or ripped away from them is discomforting at best and terrifying at worst.

For Happy’s case, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote: “While no one disputes that elephants are intelligent beings deserving of proper care and compassion, … Happy as a nonhuman animal, does not have a legally cognizable right to be at liberty under New York law.” It saddens me that one of the reasons Happy lost out was because it would have “an enormous destabilizing impact on modern society” and could generate a “flood” of petitions to free animals.

At the Supreme Court, Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor warned that overturning Roe could start a domino effect of other high court decisions, including the right to contraception, and gay rights.

Both decisions undermine the court’s legitimacies, because they weren’t made with their constituents in mind, they were selfishly made as a way to control “lesser beasts.”

It’s clear that if Happy had won his case, all zoos, circuses, aquariums, bull and cockfights, and horse and dog track owners, would get very worried. Yet animals caged for the entertainment of people is the tip of the iceberg.

Had Happy won, it may have led to very real conversations about our right to use or not use animals in so many ways, from using them as test subjects for make-ups and medicines, to animals that we put to work for us as transportation, farm labour, and in security, not to mention using their hair, skin, fur, feathers, scales, shells, meat, or body parts. We eat them, use them in clothing, herbal medicines, and even just take certain body parts, like shark fins or rabbits’ feet to bring us virility and luck. Not so lucky for the shark or rabbit. Pet ownership may suddenly also be viewed as slavery. Basically, if Happy had won, a lot of the assumed rights of the omnivorous men and women in the majority might have come under fire.

Not dissimilarly, Roe v. Wade having been overturned means that all of the other high court decisions are equally up for raping and pillaging. How long before a woman’s right to the day-after pill is removed? Will condoms be allowed, but women won’t get access to birth control? Will former crimes, like gay sex, and gay marriage be reinstituted?

If corporations can be granted the status of a person under the law and be afforded so many protections for their misbehaving, surely, we need to not strip women of rights that were hard fought and earned, and we need to consider intelligent animals and the right of people to own them, and do with them as they like as their property. Are women chattel? Are animals? Women and elephants don’t forget.

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